Many of you who read this magazine have endured long struggles for survival and worked hard to build and maintain your own self-esteem. What has kept you going? What has most motivated you to continue in your purpose for living and not give up?
As I have intensified my study of the Gospel “according to Luke” to discover more clearly the “real Jesus” of the gospels, I have come to realize that the overall theme of the life and ministry of Jesus was based in his own acceptance of himself as to who he was and why he was here. Luke makes it clear that Jesus consistently affirmed his own humanity and his identification with all people.
Jesus was born as a tiny baby, just like everybody else. Jesus was descended from a long line of people, just like everybody else. Jesus grew up and declared his independence from his parents, just like everybody else. Jesus went to see John the Baptist, just like everybody else, but he did not identify with John. He never baptized anyone himself (John 4:2).
Jesus identified with the people, the “sinners” and all types of individuals, who came to humble themselves in baptism and turn their lives over to God. Jesus was baptized just like everybody else. Jesus was baptized for the whole human race. Everything Jesus did was done for the entire human race and for you, no matter what you might do or not do about religion.
John wanted Jesus to baptize him. Jesus said “No.” Later, Jesus remarked about the greatness of John, but he said that the least in the kingdom of God were greater than John (Luke 7:28). Jesus always plowed new ground. The most startling new thing that Jesus did was to identify with everybody else instead of identifying with religion and religious leaders.
In his temptations, Jesus refused to use magic and religion to deny his humanity. He identified with everybody who has been tempted to quit and not follow through with being the genuine human being in the image of God that you are and that Jesus saw himself to be. All of us like Jesus are tempted to give up and quit being who we really are. Why have you not quit?
What the Neighbors Think
In Luke 4, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and spoke at the local church and everybody thought he was wonderful. Then he dropped his bombshell and said that he was just like everybody else and accepted everybody else just like God did. He included everybody; even the hated and despised foreigners and other marginalized and oppressed people. For this, the neighbors rejected him and plotted to kill him. Jesus was not being hateful or abusive. He was just being himself. That was not acceptable to the neighbors.
Luke 4:16-30 is a clear concise summary of the story of Jesus according to Luke. When the hometown neighbors rejected and threatened violence against Jesus, they demonstrated the exclusive attitude that defined their religion on the basis of who was left out. When churches define themselves on the basis of who they leave out, they cease to follow Jesus and thus cease to be Christian.
What you think about yourself is far more important than what the neighbors or your family or anybody else might think about you. What you think about yourself and how you see yourself determines your goals and your mission in life. Who are you to you? If you are one with all humanity, you define yourself by who you include in your life and not by who you leave out. You have to love and accept yourself before you can love your neighbor as yourself.
What the Church Thinks
Jesus rejected religion just like everybody else did. But Jesus refused to be a hypocrite and pretend to believe nonsense that comes disguised as “faith” or abuse and oppression that masquerade as “the will of God”. He rejected the Temple and predicted its total destruction. He intentionally broke the abusive religious laws of exclusion and accepted everybody equally no matter if they were “clean” or “unclean,” sick or well, poor or rich, male or female, gay or straight, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, crazy or sane, soldier or teacher.
Jesus defied and rejected the whole concept of “religion” that uses and controls people in the name of God. Jesus rejected magic, ritual, idolatry, oppression and all other forms of mind control practiced by religion. Jesus wanted above all else for people to be free, truly free, to be themselves and to celebrate and enjoy being genuine human beings loved and accepted as the children of God.
Jesus did not accept the prevailing religious opinion of himself. Do you accept the judgmental rejection of yourself by religion today? Jesus was despised and rejected by religion, but he refused to reject himself. Jesus was uniquely human in the powerful dynamic meaning of God’s purpose for all humans from the very beginning. When God made humans in the Genesis story, God said, “That’s good.” Religion ever since has tried to convince people that being the human that God made is bad, not good.
If I have a choice between Jesus and religion, I don’t see that it is a very difficult choice. Accepting Jesus is accepting yourself; so do it! Then let go of whatever gets in your way, including abusive religion, and move on.
Following Jesus means many different things to many different individuals, but the basic meaning of following Jesus is to accept and affirm yourself and your worth and value to God, to yourself, to others and to the universe and then act on your realistic honest vision of yourself to find and follow the will of God for you personally. You matter a lot more than you think. Being true to yourself and accepting yourself is your first step in changing the world.
Enjoy being yourself. Feel good about who you are. Affirm your own value as a human being and help others to accept and affirm themselves. Welcome and affirm yourself and you can become a powerful welcoming and affirming force wherever you are, within or outside of church. Religion is often the brick wall across the path. Jesus can be your detour around the barrier into the full and meaningful life God has planned for you to enjoy and share.
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.